Believing Your Own Lies


Danika and I were having a discussion the other day about fictional writing, as we tend to do, when I made mention that I do not like The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Yes, it’s true. I’m not a fan. I AM, however, a huge fan of Douglas Adams based on one reason:

He believes his own lies.


Now, before you go off on a tirade on me for calling Douglas Adams a liar, hear me out.

Writing fiction is, in fact, lying. It is lying for the purposes of entertainment.  The key here is being good at it.

During an early episode of The Simpsons, Homer makes a statement to Marge in which he says, “Marge, it takes TWO to lie. One to lie, and one to listen.” Initially, this seems like a completely absurd statement, but when you think about it for a few moments it really isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds.

Fiction really IS just that. The crafter of the narrative, is the liar. But the reader also takes part and participates in that lie. They listen, or in the case of written works, read your lies and become engrossed in them. This is what we call immersion. They have, from top to bottom become nearly convinced that the tale that they are reading is a full-on reality and, dare I even say it, FEASIBLE. When a reader says that something has “broken their immersion,” what they’re really saying to you is, “Something has happened that has caused me to stop believing the lie.”

So, on the topic of Douglas Adams, the subject of “Knowing Where One’s Towel is” is a FANTASTIC example of this:

… a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

As I read over this, I couldn’t help but laugh. Douglas Adams didn’t just have a basic idea of “Well, everyone carries a towel because it would be funny.” He really stopped and thought, PROCESSED THE IDEA and how it would play out in a realistic fashion. Simply put, he had to convince HIMSELF that knowing where one’s towel was was an IMPORTANT PIECE OF THE FICTION, and to back it up with a series of reasonable thoughts.

The best part is that because he convinced himself of such a strange, made-up concept, it was easier for us to accept it as a universal truth. It’s not uncommon to see Hitchhiker’s Fans to show up to a convention with their towels in tow, right here in the real world. The fiction, simply put, has now become a reality. It went from being a lie for a story, into a strange, but beautiful truth.

When you are crafting your narrative, you must remember that you, as the author, are 51% of the lie, and your audience is the other 49%, at the bare minimum. The reason for this is that obviously, the basic burdens of proof of concept lie on you as the creator, to convince the audience. But if you can convince yourself first, your audience will also be drawn into it.

This is much more apparent in science fiction. Just remember every episode of Star Trek you watched when you were younger (particularly The Next Generation), or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Holodecks, touchscreen computers, and more. The very concept of a such a thing as a miniature handheld touch screen computer  was laughable and far-fetched at the time.

But now, as you sit there and read this on your smartphone, just remember: Someone thought of the lie, BELIEVED IT, and the audience eventually believed it too, enough to go out and try and create it. And they did.

-Oliver

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